The All Blacks should be expected to claim a 12th successive win over France when the teams meet at Eden Park on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The headline feature of the All Blacks’ team announcement was the selection of the three Barrett brothers, Jordie, Beauden and Scott, who will become the first trio of siblings to feature for New Zealand in Test rugby.
However, what it can’t detract from is the fact that the All Blacks have selected a lineup of such quality that in-form wing Waisake Naholo can’t even find a place in the match 23.
Naholo’s absence comes as coach Steve Hansen opts for Ben Smith to play on the wing, while backing youngster Jordie Barrett to slot in at fullback, with diminutive Damian McKenzie taking up a place on the bench.
It speaks to the All Blacks’ expectation of facing an aerial bombardment from France, who have shown clear signs of a tactical evolution under new coach Jacques Brunel.
Although France managed just two wins in the this year’s Six Nations, Hansen has particularly highlighted the improvements Les Bleus have made on defence.
‘We know we’re playing an experienced and smart French team. We haven’t heard too much from them all week which is a good indication they’re in the house, and we know when they’re in the house they’re a dangerous unit. Statistically, they’re the best defensive side in the world, and we know they can play footy when they’ve got the ball.’
France have picked some big runners who will aim to achieve all-important go-forward ball – look out for powerful captain Mathieu Bastareaud – while veteran Morgan Parra will look to marshal proceedings on his return to the scrumhalf berth.
This should be an entertaining clash, but one can expect a high-intensity approach from a star-studded All Blacks team to see them to a comfortable victory.
All Blacks – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (c), 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Ngani Laumape.
France – 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fabien Sanconnie, 7 Kelian Gourdon, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso.
Subs: 16 Adrien Pélissié, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Gael Fickou.
Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images